Planners Eye 4 Chicago-Porter Passenger Routes

Transportation planners from Illinois, Indiana and Michigan have narrowed their options for a double-track passenger route between Chicago and Porter, Ind., to be used by Amtrak trains serving Michigan and the East Coast.

The four route options under consideration would use portions of Canadian National, CSX, Indiana Harbor Belt, Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, and Norfolk Southern tracks. The route options are:

  • Follow Norfolk Southern’s main line east from Chicago Union Station to Porter and build parallel to the current route used by Amtrak trains. To acquire sufficient right-of-way adjacent to the NS main line, the passenger tracks would use a parallel Commonwealth Edison alignment.
  • Follow NS from Chicago Union Station to Gary, Ind., where the passenger line would follow CSX and South Shore routes through Miller and Ogden Dunes, then return to the NS right-of-way for the last stretch into Porter. This option also makes use of ComEd right-of-way near the state line.
  • Follow the same right-of-way as the previous options to Gary and then joins the former Pennsylvania Railroad right-of-way, now abandoned, to Tolleston. From there the passenger route would follow CSX’s Porter Branch into Porter.
  • Follows the St. Charles Air Line east from just south of Chicago Union Station to the Metra Electric line then go south along Metra and CN rights-of-way to Riverdale. There, the route follows the IHB to Tolleston and then the CSX Porter Branch into Porter.

Two of the routes options have routing options near Tolleston that would presumably have grade separation at Porter to send trains over or under the NS main line.

The transportation planners must designate a preferred route as part of the Federal Railroad Administration-mandated environmental impact statement process. The passenger line would be used by Amtrak’s Blue Water, Pere Marquette, Wolverine Service, Lake Shore Limited and Capitol Limited trains.

These trains currently use NS’s busy freight line between Chicago and Porter, where the routes to Michigan diverge. Officials with the Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan state departments of transportation and FRA are holding a series of public comment meetings to gather further information on the process of determining a final route.

Last week, Matt Webb of the consulting firm HNTB presented the latest developments to a group of about 60 at Chicago Union Station’s Union Gallery.

Other meetings were to take place in Gary, Porter and Dearborn, Mich. The route options presented were chosen from 85 possible route combinations. The initial cut was to 10 options, from which these four emerged.

A Record of Decision on the final preferred route is expected from the FRA by the end of 2014. At that time, interested parties will have a single preferred route for which to arrange funding. The complete EIS process for the Chicago-Porter corridor is expected to cost $4 million. Construction of the passenger corridor, depending on the route chosen, could cost up to $2 billion. Shorter term, some congestion relief on the current NS/Amtrak route should come from a $71.4 million federal high speed rail grant given to Indiana to construct high-speed crossovers or passing tracks at eight locations between Porter and the Illinois border.

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